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East-West Dialogues: The Transferability of Concepts in the Humanities

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Edited By Christoph Bode, Michael O'Sullivan, Lukas Schepp and Eli Park Sorensen

This is an edited collection of essays drawn from collaborative events organized jointly by The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. The book focuses on how literary and cultural perspectives from different humanities academic environs in Asia and Europe might contribute to our understanding of the "transferability of concepts." Exploring ways in which these traditions may enter into new and productive collaborations, the book presents readings of a wide range of Western and Eastern writers, including Shakespeare, J.M. Coetzee, Yu Dafu. The book contains a virtual round table followed by four thematic sections – "Travels and Storytelling," "Translation and Transferability," "Historical Contexts and Transferability," and "Aesthetic Contexts and Transferability."

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Chapter 10: Keats, Montaigne, and Hamlet: Li Ou

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Li Ou

Keats, Montaigne, and Hamlet

This chapter examines Keats’s sceptical ideas by exploring their affinities with Montaigne, the most important inheritor of scepticism during the Renaissance revival of Pyrrhonism. Recognizing the lack of evidence to demonstrate Keats’s knowledge about Montaigne, I will nevertheless consider their connections from the Keats circle’s reading of Montaigne and more importantly, from the correspondence between some of Montaigne’s sceptical ideas and those of Shakespeare as manifested in Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most explicitly sceptical play.

Many aspects of Montaigne’s scepticism evoke similar ideas in Keats’s poetry and poetics. In particular, Montaigne’s view on the fluidity of the self is affinitive with Keats’s poetics of the chameleon poet, and Montaigne’s customary intellectual habit to recognise the equipollence of contrary sides of things is akin to Keats’s propensity to constantly balance the two sides of oppositions against each other on the ground of their equal power and interdependence. Most strikingly, it is the paradox of Montaigne’s preoccupation with mortality and his celebration of being that suggests the strongest link with the same central motif in Keats’s poetry. In articulating these similar ideas, they also share a self-conscious search for proper linguistic expressions of the non-dogmatic philosophy, as exemplified in Montaigne’s experiment in the essay form and Keats’s appropriation of the dialectical mode of the ode to formally play out the sceptical equipollence.

Montaigne’s scepticism derives very much from a prominent view of his on the fluidity of the world and...

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